Friday, 29 June 2018

Getting KwaNdengezi Teachers Coding

SchoolNet SA has been working with teachers from twelve schools in KwaNdengezi that are supported by the Rotary Club of Pinetown to make more effective use of digital resources to enhance their teaching. As part of a Microsoft Philanthropies YouthSpark project, twenty four of these teachers spent two days of their June holidays learning at Hillcrest High School in KwaZulu-Natal learning some basic computer science skills that they can share with their learners when school reopens. SchoolNet SA facilitators, Hlengiwe Mfeka and Senzo Ngcobo report that the workshops were a great success. Here are some of the highlights:

Day 1: 25 June 2018 – Getting to grips with the Microsoft Educator Community
While waiting for the other participants to arrive, the facilitators helped the early birds to register with on the Microsoft Educator Community. As the rest of the participants joined the class, they followed suit. Just before break, Dr. Nkabinde of the MST&ICT Directorate of the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education officially opened the workshop and Mrs. Mfeka introduced the group to the MEC website.

Facilitating an Hour of Code
After break, Mrs. Mfeka facilitated the Hour of Code so that the teachers could see how even simple coding activities can help develop 21st Century skills like critical thinking, collaboration and creativity. The teachers worked their way through the Minecraft Adventurer tutorial at This was challenging at first but teachers soon started solving the puzzles and enjoying the activities so much that they did not want to stop.

Sibongakonke Shabangu from Ziphathele Secondary got the furthest along with the Hour of Code tutorials, closely followed Njabulo Mlotshwa, Siyabonga Zuma and Ziningi Mabanga. Once they had experienced the Hour of Code as participants the teachers then completed the Hour of Code: Facilitation Course on MEC. Most felt they were confident to facilitate the course with their learners and were happy to receive a badge indicating that they are now Hour of Code facilitators.

Testing and Developing Computational Thinking
After lunch, Mr Senzo Ngcobo, introduced the group to Computational Thinking using the Talent Search resources on the Computer Olympiad website to give teachers an opportunity to test their own skills. The Computer Olympiad aims to give learners an opportunity to test and develop thinking skills that are useful for computer programming even if they don't have access to computers or computer science as subject at their schools. Although the group were doing a grade 5 past paper, and were allowed to consult with neighbors, some of the questions still took some careful thinking and logical reasoning. The teachers concurred that if they could expose their learners to such exercises, their performance in STEM subjects would significantly improve and learners with an aptitude for computer science could be encouraged to pursue this area of study. The teachers then successfully completed the Computational Thinking Course on the MEC and actively shared their views on how such activities and strategies could benefit learners.

Day 2: 27 June 2018 – Trying out Physical Computing
For this session delegates learnt more about physical computing and then completed the online Physical Computing Course on the Microsoft Educator Community. The group then visited the website and used the Microbit simulator flash out their names. This was extremely exciting to the teachers, for they had never imagined themselves doing this. They said they could not wait to help their learners to code, using tools like because this would develop their creativity and critical thinking skills.

Using Scratch for programming
The final session involved delegates being introduced to Scratch programming and trying out a few of the simple activities. Delegates were then given a choice of either continuing with the more advanced Scratch activities or completing additional courses on the Microsoft Educator Community of their own choice. Participants were stunned by the numerous resources available for them in the MEC website.  One facilitator caught Thokozani talking to herself saying, “why wasting money enrolling for computer courses because everything I need is here (pointing at the MEC page)”.

Getting learners coding
We look forward to hearing how the teachers who attended this workshop roll out the activities they participated in to their learners. They came up with some great strategies for sharing their skills in their action plans so we hope that they are able to foster an interest in computer science by exposing learners to basic coding and computational thinking.

It isn't necessary to attend a face-to-face course to get your learners coding. Click on the links to the Microsoft Educator Community courses mentioned in this post to learn the basics yourself so that you can get your learners doing an Hour of Code, testing their computational thinking skills in the Computer Olympiad, trying their hand at physical computing using, or coding using Scratch. All of these resources are fun and free and can be used even at schools with few resources and no computer science teacher. 

Thursday, 28 June 2018

Facebook posts that help spread your message

If you manage your school or organisation's Facebook page - keep the following tips in mind to help build your community and get your posts read.

Watch your language. Your posts will be read by a wide audience of people who may not be familiar with the jargon and terminology used in your field. Keep your language simple and generic so that a non-expert can understand your posts. Don’t use profanity or your account will be blocked and people may unlike your page.

Give your posts a human face that is unique to your school or organisation. Posts shouldn’t read as if they were auto-generated. First-hand accounts of real people in your organisation and what they are doing are more likely to get people’s interest that content recycled from other pages.

Time your posts for when your audience will be interested. Look at your page statistics to see when most of your posts are viewed and aim to post at those times – or to schedule posts at times when people are likely to read them. You will have more views if you schedule posts for lunch time, evenings or break times when people are looking for something to read than posts in the middle of the night or during peak working hours.

Consider adding videos to your posts. The most viewed posts on Facebook are ones that include a video or an image. Be aware though that people using Free Facebook or Facebook Lite may not see your videos, and people may not want to use up too much of their own data playing your videos. Also – keep your videos short – most people stop watching after 30 seconds unless you really grab their attention. Remember that many people will watch your videos with the sound off so consider adding in subtitles so they can read the dialogue.

Use photographs with caution. Posts with great photos get more engagement than text only post however make sure you have got people’s permission to post their photos. If you are working with children, old people or people with sensitive health challenges take extra precautions not to reveal people’s identities unless you have written permission to do so. Possible work arounds include showing people from the back, taking photographs of their hands or feet only, blurring out faces, asking children to hold the items such as tablets or soccer balls in front of their faces. Other options include replacing photos with stock images from free photo sharing sites (not plagiarizing other people’s images) or using animations, clip art or cartoons.

Aim for short and sweet. Think of how you can convey your message in 140 characters (like a Tweet!) and aim to keep most of your posts to this length. If you do have longer content to share you can link to a longer article, blogpost or item on your website, but posts that are too long will get scrolled over.

Get a range of input but keep consistency. Few schools or organisations employ a full time person who is only responsible for social media – but you don’t want your Facebook page to only include photos and news from one department. To have a range of fresh news on their pages, some organisations and schools ask various people to send their content and photos to the person who actually posts it on Facebook. At other organisations, multiple people have publishing rights on the organisation’s page but they also aim to use a consistent style.

Include a call to action. If you want people to do something – like your post, donate to your cause, sign up to attend an event – make this clear in your post using simple language and including your request at the top of your post. Including a suitable image – for example of someone one the phone if you want people to call now – may also boost responses.
Consider reposting tweaked content. If you posted something and didn’t get many responses, consider reworking the post and posting it again. A different image and tweaked wording, or posting at a different time may boost engagement. Reposting the exact same post over and over, without other fresh posts in between though will lead to unlikes.

Read and respond to the comments. If people are asking lots of questions in the comments section about info that should have been obvious from your original post, your post may need reworking. Of course, comments that show engagement should be welcomed and questions should be responded to so that you show appreciation for people who have shown an interest in what you do.

Keep the 80-20 rule in mind. Provide content that your audience will enjoy 80% of the time – news and photos, memes, jokes, tips, links to useful articles etc. This will help you to build an audience, who can then respond to the 20% of your posts where you ask your audience to do something – register for an event, donate to your cause, share their views etc.

Tag people and organisations to help amplify your message. If you are working with another school or organisation on a project – tag them in your post so that it appears in their timeline. Ditto if specific people were involved in a project or event. Do this with caution though so people don’t feel that you are spamming them or taking over their timelines with your posts. If you like other organisations’ pages they may like you back – so that you can both benefit from working together.

Consider scheduling posts around a theme. You can schedule posts in advance which means that your page will always have fresh news even if the person who does your posting is unavailable or your school or organisation have no current events. Make a regular feature, such as #ThrowbackThursday (where you post images or events from your archives) or #MotivationMonday (which gives a thought or goal for the week) so that people start getting familiar with your posts.

Many of these tips and ideas were originally shared by Sam Posselt of Phambano Technology Development Centre, Cindy McNally who runs the SA NPO Network and Gina Woo the Facebook Global Programs for Good Manager at the Facebook NGO Day which took place in Sandton on 26 June 2018.  We will definitely be putting this advice into action on our SchoolNet SA Facebook page - but we are sharing this advice here because we know that a lot if it will apply to school Facebook pages too.

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Building Communities with a Facebook page

More than 1,5 million non-profit organisations use Facebook Pages to build their communities – including SchoolNet SA. On 26 June 2018 we participated in the Facebook’s NGO Day workshop held at the Raddison Blu Hotel in Sandton #FBNGODAYSA. This workshop included a number of great sessions for representatives of NGOs who are using Facebook to share the work that their organisations are doing with their beneficiaries and funders.

At this workshop, Sam Posselt of Phambano Technology Development Centre, Cindy McNally who runs the SA NPO Network and Gina Woo the Facebook Global Program for Good Manager, shared some great tips for setting up and managing Facebook pages for organisations. We are including some of their tips on our blog because many of them will apply to schools that have Facebook pages.

In this post we focus on setting up the right kind of Facebook account for your school or organisation and in our next post we will focus on getting your posts read.

Don’t set up an account for your organisation or school as a normal Facebook profile (like the one you have for yourself). People will then need to make friends with you to view your posts and you will be limited to 5 000 “friends”.

Instead, set up a Facebook Page for your school or organisation. You can set up a business/ brand or fan page and encourage people in your community to “like” your page to engage with you. From a fan page you will be able to boost posts and you can target your message to people who have shown an interest in your organisation. If someone likes one of your posts – you can ask them to like your page to grow your audience.

Consider setting up a Facebook group. A Facebook group allows you to create a community of people who have something in common (for example they are your trainers or parents with learners at your school). People need to ask to join a Facebook group which helps keep out spammers and encourages people to follow the rules of the group. Group members can share information and resources using the files section and can ask questions of one another that are related to the aims of the group. Be aware though that you can’t boost posts within a group; it can be quite time consuming to moderate a group, and people have to join their groups in their personal capacities (i.e. they will post as themselves, not as their organisation’s Facebook page).

We hope these tips will help you to set up a Facebook page for your school. Please like our SchoolNet SA Facebook page if you haven't already done so so that you can stay up to date with our events and activities.

Monday, 25 June 2018

Professional Development Framework for Digital Learning published

The Department of Basic Education in South Africa has published a Professional Development Framework for Digital Learning. The aim of this Framework is to build educator competencies in facilitating learning with digital tools and resources.

Some of the topics addressed in the Framework include: the context and scope for digital literacy skills; factors influencing competence in digital literacy; and pedagogical transformation.

Training is underway in NorthWest, KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng to equip provincial officials with the skills to provide teacher workshops on understanding digital learning competences, with other provinces scheduled to also receive training.

SchoolNet SA was proud to be part of the team that gave input into the Framework. We know that it will be a valuable resource to guide teachers who use digital tools and resources to support learning as well as to school leaders and e-leaning specialists supporting staff in developing their digital learning competencies. 

Click on the link to download the Professional Development Framework for Digital Learning.
The Framework and its many supporting resources are available here.   
Teachers are also encouraged to try out the online diagnostic self-assessment tool.

Monday, 18 June 2018

Eastern Cape teachers build their digital skills

Over two weekends in June 2018, two hundred Eastern Cape teachers attended professional development workshops to build digital skills. These eight training sessions were sponsored by Microsoft, in collaboration with the Eastern Cape Department of Education, to assist teachers to make better use of their Office 365 accounts and the Windows 10 laptops to enhance teaching and learning.

Whilst the Eastern Cape Department of Education eLearning team had already conducted a number of training sessions around the province, the following eight rural locations were selected for these sessions as these districts tend to have few professional development opportunities for teachers: 
  • Alfred Nzo East - Bizana District Offices
  • Alfred Nzo West - Maluti ICT Centre
  • OR Tambo Coastal - Lusikiski ICT Centre - Old Lusikisiki College
  • Amathole East - Butterworth ICT Centre – Mission Location
  • Chris Hani West - Lady Frere ICT Centre 
  • Chris Hani East - Ngcobo Resource Centre 
  • Joe Gqabi - Sterkspruit ICT Centre – Bensonvale College
  • Sarah Baartman - Graaff Reinet ICT Centre
The workshops aimed to introduce teachers to the Microsoft Educator Community and how this platform can be used to access anywhere, anytime professional development. Teachers were also shown some of the features of their Windows 10 laptops and learnt to navigate around their Office 365 accounts. It is hoped that having had some introductory training, that teachers will become more confident about using their devices, and that they will seek out additional online professional development that best suits their needs as teachers. 

Almost every trainer reported that their major challenge was connectivity. This was unfortunate, but as it was expected given the rural venues, delegates were able to use an offline version of the ICT Skills for Teachers course. At most venues a technical support official was available for at least some sessions, and most sessions were attended by an eLearning official. This meant that questions around the devices and O365 accounts could be addressed by an official with knowledge of these.

Delegates were asked to list their top three learning from the workshop. This Word Cloud summarizes their responses. On the whole teachers who attended these workshops appeared to be making use of their Windows devices, and we trust that from the additional training and support they received at these sessions that they will now make even better use of their laptops and O365 accounts.

This project underscores the importance of professional development as part of any device roll out to ensure that teachers actually make use of the equipment and tools they have been given. Ideally training should not be a once off event but rather part of an ongoing intervention with continuous support and monitoring. We hope that teachers will continue to complete online courses through the Microsoft Educator Community and that the Eastern Cape Department of Education eLearning officials will continue to provide additional training. 

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Building Digital Skills among displaced teachers in the Eastern Cape

SchoolNet SA was commissioned by Microsoft to develop the digital skills of displaced teachers in the Eastern Cape. Specifically, it was hoped that these displaced teachers could assist the Eastern Cape Department of Education's eLearning team with training teachers in the province to make better use of Microsoft tools and their Windows 10 devices. The capacity building sessions for 52 displaced teachers took place between 27 and 31 May 2018 at the East London Leadership Institute in East London.

The capacity building session kicked off with a welcome from Nadine Pote (Chief Director: Teacher Development and Learning Institutions Eastern Cape Department of Education) and Dr Drik Greeff (Chief Education Specialist at Eastern Cape Department of Education).  Ms Pote explained that the capacity building session was part of the larger implementation of the National Department of Education’s strategy for e-Education as well as the province’s prioritization of teacher development as support to district eLearning and curriculum personnel.

After the initial kick-off session, the educators were split into two groups and relocated to two computer labs. The educators then worked with SchoolNet SA facilitators (Busisiwe Mdlankomo, Megan Rademeyer, Sandile Maliwa and Hlengiwe Mfeka) to complete a range of activities designed to familiarize the group with O365 and the Windows 10 laptops that many Eastern Cape teachers have been equipped with. Educators registered on the Microsoft Educator Community and were shown how to use this portal to access the Digital Skills for Teachers courses that had been uploaded to the platform as part of this project. The educators also worked through a range of scenarios in the ICT Skills for Teachers course.

Whilst the instructional design of the ICT Skills for Teachers course allows teachers to select scenarios based on artefacts they wish to create, as this was a capacity building session we asked participants to aim to produce at least one Word, one Excel and one PowerPoint artefact across the four days of training so that the SchoolNet SA team could assess their competence in using the most commonly used Microsoft O365 apps. The educators who had the most advanced digital skills assisted the other educators to complete the activities and also presented their artefacts during the showcase event - demonstrating that they had the potential to be facilitators for this course.

One of the highlights of the workshop was a Socrative quiz designed to test the delegate's knowledge of the features of a Windows 10 laptop. This activity also provided a good opportunity to talk about how using online quizzes can be an engaging way to provide a gamification component within a lesson. Sandile Maliwa led a session for each group in which he demonstrated how to navigate using some of the features of Windows 10.

Participants completed an activity in which they provided their tips for keeping a Windows 10 device safe as part of a collaborative PowerPoint document. The objectives of this activity was twofold – it got groups of participants discussing how to care for their devices whilst also demonstrating how collaborative documents work.

The capacity session was very well received by delegates, who all noted that their digital skills had improved as a result of the professional development. The facilitators remarked that the displaced teachers were "eager to learn and everyone participated in the presentations and showed engagement in the different sessions". Unfortunately a number of the delegates who attended this workshop had very basic computer skills, and the four days of capacity building was insufficient to bring them up to the level of being trainers. Nonetheless, a number of displaced teachers were identified as having strong potential and we are sure that they will be a valuable source of assistance to the Eastern Cape Department of Education eLearning team as they continue to roll out their training plan.

Friday, 1 June 2018

CuriosITy Workshops get Grade 11 Girls using Digital Tools

The annual CuriosITy dinner - which was hosted by Bresica House School on 30 May 2018 - gives grade 11 girls who are taking either CAT or IT an opportunity to network with women in the IT industry. This year, a series of hands-on workshops took place prior to the dinner to provide the girls, and their teachers, with an opportunity to try out a range of digital tools.

174 girls and their 50 teachers who attended the workshops were each able to select three 40 minute sessions from the following options:
  • Explore Merge cubes, Metaverse and Expeditions 
  • VJ Robotics STEAM activity 
  • Get going with an Hour of Code 
  • Explore Sphero 
  • MicroBits 
  • Lego Mindstorms 
  • Lego WeDo 
  • Access Microsoft software for Mahala! 
  • Get Scratching 
  • Green Screen 
These short workshops were just long enough to expose teachers and learners to a range of new tools and to whet their appetites for exploring technology and coding beyond what is included in the school curriculum.

As part of the Microsoft #YouthSpark project, which aims to introduce basic computer science into more schools, Megan Rademeyer of SchoolNet SA offered the Hour of Code as one of the CuriosITy sessions. These workshops proved to be very popular with learners and teachers who are taking CAT as a subject, but whose schools do not offer IT. Having seen how fun it is to complete simple coding activities, learners were eager to run Hour of Code sessions at their schools. Teachers from schools that offer IT noted that the Hour of Code could be used to encourage more grade 9 learners to consider taking IT as a subject for matric.

Nomusa Keninda and Ntombizodwa Gininda, representing the Mpumalanga ICT Club, presented workshops that introduced learners and teachers to Scratch programming. This simple, free tool is another great way of introducing the basics of coding to young learners, and we trust that many teachers will use this simple form of programming to promote computer science at their schools.

Bonolo Sedupane of Microsoft SA showed girls and their teachers how to register for Mahala Microsoft accounts. The girls were excited to know that they can get free access to Microsoft software, a Microsoft email account and online storage and said that they would be sure to also get their friends connected. Teachers from schools that have not signed up for O365 for the whole school were interested to learn of another option that they could use for their learners to access software.

Through the Microsoft Philanthropies YouthSpark Grant, SchoolNet SA was able to sponsor four girls and their teachers from ten under-resourced schools to attend the CuriosITy workshop and dinner. We know that the opportunity to try out a range of tools, and to get excited about using new technologies will go a long way towards ensuring that more girls with an interest in technology consider pursuing careers in STEM subjects.